Surprising Catalan Traditions
The Catalans are a lot wilder than you thought!
Catalonia is a region with a very important cultural heritage that you will not be able to miss during your stay. When learning about new cultures, we tend to think about museums, architecture and even gastronomy, but another way you can learn about the people, is to explore the cultural traditions and festivities that they celebrate. Whether you have decided to visit the Catalan capital of Barcelona or any other part of the region, you will likely have the chance to witness some of them and to guide you through it, we have made a list of the most surprising and unusual Catalan traditions that you might see during your stay. We are sure you won’t regret it!
All of these events occur close to our top-end apartments in central locations in Barcelona and around Catalonia. So don’t miss the opportunity to book your holiday apartment with us to make the most of your time in this unique region.
The Dancing Egg (20-23 June)
You may be surprised to see eggs on the fountains of Barcelona. That’s right, eggs! It is one of the oldest and most unusual traditions in Barcelona. This tradition has the name L’ou com balla or the dancing egg in Catalan and marks the celebration of Corpus Christi since 1637. The principle is simple but to say the least: eggs are placed on the jets of the fountains in patios, gardens, cloisters …
For some, it is a metaphor of the circle of life or a reference to time and incessant movement. For others, it is simply a typical entertainment dating from the Middle Ages. The ou com balla shows us the magic of simplicity and becomes a symbol of the city during the Corpus Christi festival. For this occasion, the gardens are adorned with floral arrangements and cherries.
Do not be surprised to find dozens of eggs scattered over the fountains of all the districts of the Catalan capital.
Here the various spots where you can enjoy the dancing eggs:
As part of the Corpus Christi festivities, the lobby, the staircase and the gothic gallery of the city hall will host the exhibition of the Seguici Popular de la Ciutat. It’ll take place from Thursday 20 to Saturday 22 from 10:00 AM to 08.00 PM to Sunday 23 June from 10:00 AM to 02.00 AM.
Gegants (Giants) and Bestiari (Beasts) occupies those spaces. All of them are elements of festive imagery with a certain historical tradition. Although some are truly more than 100 years old, others have been recovered during these last decades, from documentary sources.
There will also be processions on Sunday 23 June. See programme below:
18.30 in Plaça de Sant Jaume: Performances of Moixiganga Barcelona, Falcons de Barcelona and the dance of Barcelona’s Corpus Giants.
19.15 in Plaça de Sant Jaume: Departure of Seguici Popular parade – giants, beasts and dances- from the Town Council.
19:45: Departure of the festive procession. Route: av. de la Catedral, pl. Nova, c. dels Arcs, av. del Portal de l’Àngel, c. Comtal, via Laietana, c. de Joaquim Pou i av. de la Catedral
In short, it is a historic and original event not to be missed and whose popularity is not likely to diminish in Barcelona!
Tió de Nadal
Every 8th December – Inmaculate Conception Day – Catalan families set out Tió de Nadal or better known as Caga Tió (literally meaning poo log). What is it exactly? Well, it’s a log decorated with a smile, a red hat and a pair of legs. The tradition is to take great care of it covering it with a blanket for not getting cold and “feeding” it every day until Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, the children hit it with a stick and ask it to defecate presents and sweet treats while singing. Here is an example of a common song:
Caga, tió / almonds and nougat / Do not poo herring / they are too salty/ poo nougats / they are better / Caga, tió / almonds and nougat / if you do not want to poo / I will give you the cane / Caga, tió!
Catalans have a peculiar fascination with faeces as you might have already noticed based on the previous tradition. Well, hold tight as there’s more on the way with the Caganer! The tradition of the shitting one (literal translation) dates back to the 17th or 18th century and comes under various appearances now. The figurine is hidden in the Nativity Scene and children have to find it.
It usually consists of a porcelain figurine of a man in a traditional peasant outfit. The character has its bum out and enjoys a pure, relaxing, natural moment (defecating in case you weren’t sure). You can now find politicians, football players and many famous real and fictional characters depicted as the Caganer.
However, there is a less vulgar meaning behind this strange tradition as the Caganer actually has a symbolic meaning of bringing prosperity and good fortune throughout the year. It’s in no way seen as offensive, although it may be shocking when you see it for the first time in a shop window.
L’home dels nassos
On the last day of the year, l’home dels nassos (the man with the noses) goes out for a walk around the city. The legend says that this man has as many noses as the year has days. Children are launched into their search, imagining a quirky character with 365 noses on his face without thinking that on December 31st, there is only one day left. To continue with the joke, adults tease the children by saying they have just seen him go through a nearby street loaded with mocadors (handkerchiefs) to blow his many noses on.
In Barcelona the tradition was to find the man at midday on December 31st in Plaza del Palau, in front of the Llotja. He would stand on a platform so that everyone could see him and blow his huge nose. Today, you can spot him in the streets as a big-headed festival character and he hands the key to the New Year to the authorities.
La Festa de Sant Medir
This festivity occurs in the district of Gràcia, Sarrià, Sant Gervasi and Sants every March 3rd. During the festival horses, carts and trucks parade around the streets with musicians. Children line up along these streets waiting for dozens of sweets to be distributed. As soon as the 26 colles (parade groups) start tossing the sweets, hundreds of hysterical kids rush to grab as many as possible. Some people even hold an umbrella upside down to collect sweets in larger quantities before they touch the floor.
The legend started in 1828 because of a baker called Josep Vidal i Ganés. He fell ill and promised to make an annual pilgrimage to Sant Medir chapel located in the hills of Collserola if God could cure him. As he recovered, he would beat a drum and throw beans to announce his pilgrimage. Today, the beans have been replaced with sweets and hordes of children gather for the event.
Castellers – Human Towers
One of the most impressive traditions of Catalonia is celebrated in Barcelona and in many other towns of the region, and we strongly recommend you do not miss it!
But what are Castellers?
Literally, it means 'human castles' and it is one of the most popular traditions of Catalonia, which its inhabitants are understandably very proud of. Human towers are built and they can be between 6 and 10 floors high. In order to “validate” the tower, the lightest child must complete the demonstration by climbing to the top of the tower and raising their arm. Each year, more people can join in to form it.
What are the origins of this tradition?
They come from the old dances of the Valentinois which took place during the religious processions in the 18th century. These dances ended in a figure constructed by humans. Since the Universal Exhibition in 1928, participants wear a traditional costume: a coloured shirt, white trousers, a black belt called a Faixa and a square cotton scarf called a Mocador Casteller.
Where and when to attend a performance?
Castellers are performed in towns and villages all over Catalonia. You can see these performances on many occasions: the patronal festivals of the towns (Festa Majors), the festivals of the districts and, more generally, all kinds of Catalan popular festivals. To consult the schedules and places in Catalonia, click here.
Falcon de Catalunya
Similar to the castellers, the Falcon de Catalunya is similar to the Sokol towers of Czech Republic. It consists of building a triangular human tower made of fewer participants. You are more likely to see it during the Mercè festivites in late September.
If you hear popping and hissing noises during your visit in Barcelona, don't be alarmed! It is most likely coming from a Correfoc. If you’re asking yourself 'What’s that?', a Correfoc means 'Fire run' in Catalan and, as the name suggests, it involves fire and… running. Every representation is a fight between good and evils characters. Hordes of devils called Colles de diablos stride along streets or squares and dance to the sounds of drums. They light fireworks set on pitchforks and drag enormous beasts along with them which can also spit fire.
This tradition made a fierce come back more than 35 years ago after a long ban under Franco’s fascist regime and is deeply rooted into Catalan folklore. Nowadays, any local event is a reason to play with fire.
Would you dare jump into the river of firework sparks and dancing with the devils? We would recommend you to wear protections just in case…
Ball de bastons
As part of Catalan folklore, this dynamic dance is often seen during traditional Catalan festivals.
Equipped with one or two oak sticks, ball de bastons dancers stand in two rows opposite one another. They perform frantic choreographies with sticks slamming against each other while jumping and twirling.
The dancers traditionally wear a completely white outfit with red or blue belts and bells strapped to their ankle. Their show is accompanied by a band made of tabor pipes or bagpipes.
Prohibited during Franco’s fascist regime, the sardana is a symbol of the Catalans’ identity and unity. Performers join hands in a circle and raise their arms as a proclamation of pride before making small hops to the music. The circle gets larger and larger to the rhythm of the band playing.
The best time to see it is on Saturday evenings outside Barcelona's Gothic Cathedral.
Where to Stay
If this article has inspired you to see some of Catalonia's interesting, historic and sometimes crazy local traditions, we recommend that you stay in one of ChicRoom Barcelona's luxury apartments. They are all high quality and centrally located, so you will be able to explore the city and witness all of these traditions hassle-free. We also have apartments and luxury villas in other areas of Catalonia, including the Costa Brava, Maresme, Sitges and the Pyrenees. Visit our website today!
Casagrand Summum on ChicRoom Barcelona